My parents live just south of a relatively small town in Missouri called Columbia. Far enough south that there are road signs announcing where city maintenance stops, so if you were hoping to get home after a big snow storm, good luck with that.
Something you’ll notice the further you get away from the main drag of a city is that people start to look out for each other a little bit more.
When a driveway needs the snow cleared away, the guy in the neighborhood with a plow on his truck goes from house to house, making sure the worst of it is gone so you can try to make it into town for toilet paper.
There’s also what I affectionately call the ‘country gang sign,’ which is a little wave from your car, sometimes with the whole hand, but usually just with a few fingers lifted from the steering wheel, given to anyone who drives by after you’re a certain distance outside city limits.
It doesn’t matter if you know the person or if they have ever seen you or your car before. It just kind of happens anyway.
Car, little wave, civility. It’s kind of nice.
When you get this friendly little wave, it says ‘Hey there! How’s your day? I hope it’s been great, and if you have any trouble, let me know because I’ve got your back.’ That’s good to hear, even if only implicitly.
The Internet doesn’t have literal geography, but it can work the same way, especially if you write a blog with a particular niche or on the periphery of the mainstream. Outside of the CNNs of the world, we’re sorted by categories and relationships and reading lists and search terms.
You’ll find quite often that folks in a particular niche will give each other that country gang sign by commenting on each others’ posts, retweeting and promoting each others’ work, and participating in different business ventures that might spring up. The wave says ‘I get it. I get you. Let’s help each other out.’
And it’s kind of nice.
Now, there’s a reason this little wave doesn’t pop up all over cities. If you’re passing by a large number of people every day and trying to wave to them all, you’ll never get anything done. You can’t promise camaraderie and support for everyone. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day.
So instead we avoid eye contact and try our best not to notice what other people are up to. Not my problem. I don’t even want to know.
I would argue, however, that having a dozen or so relationships of this sort could be sustainable and incredibly valuable, especially with people outside of your geographic region, blogging niche, or other categorization. Actually, the further the other people in your ‘gang’ are from your situation, the better.
Imagine arriving in an unfamiliar city, not speaking the language, not knowing anything about the currency or food or culture. You’re totally neck-deep in confusion.
Now imagine that same situation, but with a kindly stranger who approaches you, teaches you a few simple phrases, shows you how the money works, and wishes you luck before going back to their day.
How amazingly comforting! Now you’re a million times more confident and ready to take on the world.
You could be that helpful person, and in some cases all it takes as little as a wave across the ether to someone who is in unfamiliar territory.
You don’t have to get matching tattoos or anything like that. You don’t even need to know their name. Just a gesture that says ‘Welcome! I’m here if you need me.’
It doesn’t take much to give value to someone who is starting from nothing.
Update: February 3, 2017
I still call that little wave a country gang sign, so I’ve found that out near my parents’ house, folks are doing it a lot less, when I visit. Maybe it’s just my own experience of the matter, and maybe it’s because the city is rapidly creeping Southward, engulfing all the land between them and the suburbs. But I miss it, either way.